Volume II, No. 4, Summer 1975

Reflections of a Foreign Student on the Ozarks

by Doris Brelowski

To come to the Ozarks must be an unique experience for anyone from another part of the United States. But for me who comes from northern Germany, it is not only an experience, it is also an adventure, a learning process, an adaption to American culture in general. I think that I am lucky to learn about America and its people through living in the Ozarks, because this is one of the few areas where many of the old ways of life are still preserved. Some very old crafts which are found few other places, are still being made here where the people have their own dialects and customs.

Most of what impresses me about the Ozarks are the people and nature. I will try to capture a little of how I see the Ozark people's way of thinking and their attitude toward life, and how nature still has an important role in life here.

Many people whom I have talked to said that they find the "hillbillies" backwards, too conservative, uninterested in the outside world. I found that this is true to some extent, but that there is a very good explanation for this. During the Bittersweet interviews with some real old-timers, I learned that the Ozark people used to live almost completely isolated from the outside world, not wanting to get involved with "foreigners," as they called people who came from the outside of the Ozarks. And thus they were able to preserve their typical culture, their crafts and their speech.

I learned about some crafts which I did not know even existed any more, such as making baskets of split oak and apple-head dolls. Just recently I learned how to make and play the mountain dulcimer, a folk instrument of the Applachian and Ozark regions.

The picturesque language of the people, in spite of its being somewhat rustic and rural, has to me a very charming effect. My favorite, "I'll see you if the Lord's willin' and the creek don't rise," shows two typical things of the people--their closeness to religion and to nature. The importance of religion is even today noticeable by every stranger as church activities still play a very vital role in their lives. The phrase "if the creek don't rise," illustrates the influence of nature, for traveling was often made impossible by big rains flooding low water bridges and fords. At first I had problems understanding the speech of the older people, but once getting used to it, I found it very interesting and expressive.

What I appreciate most about the Ozarks, however, is nature--the countryside and the wildlife. In the months after my arrival last August I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the autumn colors which are so much stronger here than in Germany. In Bennett Spring State Park I first saw the beautiful Niangua River, and I was really impressed by the trout hatchery there. I also went hiking for the first time in my life and I loved it because I could feel close to nature. We saw deer and turkey tracks and signs of other wildlife. The guide explained to us how the pioneers had used different parts of the forest to make their' living. When we were quiet, we could hear the running of the river, the voices of the birds and the rustling of the leaves. It seems sad to me that we have removed ourselves so far from nature that such a simple experience is so special.

In the Ozarks I have once again learned to appreciate nature because I am right in the middle of it. Through participating in Bittersweet and classes about the Ozarks, I have learned of the old crafts and speech and I have talked to several older people. I have enjoyed it all very much, and I hope that there will always be somebody who will want to preserve the culture and beauty of this country.

Ashford Hough showing an old song book


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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